An item in today’s NYTimes City Room blog, on a proposal to tax illegal drugs, makes parenthetical mention of an earlier story on the official New York State misspelling of pot. In New York you get busted for smoking marihuana, not marijuana.
In the earlier story, former High Times editor Steve Bloom speculates the odd spelling is because “someone just spelled it wrong, and it stuck.” The ‘h’ spelling, though, appears to be common in American jurisprudence. An early anti-drug law is titled the “1937 Marihuana Tax Act,” and to stay consistent with that law, it is often so-spelled in modern laws relating to marijuana, according to Wikipedia.
Perhaps it’s a vestige of a time when Americans were even less aware of non-English spelling and pronunciation (in this instance, the Spanish pronunciation of ‘j’ as a breathy ‘hw,’ as in ‘juanita’) than they are now. If you can imagine that even being possible.